Mulukhiyya (مُلُوخِيَّة)

Strictly speaking, the word refers to Jew’s mallow (Corhorus olitorius), a plant commonly associated with Egypt. It derives its name from the Greek molokhê (μολόχη), meaning ‘mallow’. Greek and Roman authors referred to its extreme bitterness, with the first-century Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder already mentioning that it was eaten in Alexandria. The word also denotes a stew made with the leaves of this vegetable, which was quite a popular dish in mediaeval Arab cuisine as several recipes are found in a number of the cookery books. In Islamic medicine and pharmacology, Jew’s mallow was recommended for inflammations, liver and urethral blockages, as an emmenagogic and against headaches. Today, mulukhiyya is still very popular in a number of countries, but the preparations vary somewhat. In its original homeland of Egypt, the leaves are chopped up to make a stew with meat (most often rabbit or poultry). In Lebanon, the method is similar, except that it calls for whole leaves, garlic and coriander. In Tunisia, on the other hand, mulukhiyya is usually eaten on Eid al-Fitr (عيد الفطر), which marks the end of the Ramadan fast, and is prepared rather differently; the leaves are dried and ground, and the subsequent powder is added to tomato paste and olive oil to make a sauce in which meat (typically beef) is then cooked. The recipe recreated here is from the 15th-century, and besides Jew’s mallow and chicken, it includes spices like coriander and caraway, as well as garlic. It can be made with a variety of meats, including rabbit and pigeon, and is delicious with some crunchy bread. [The Sultan’s Feast, No. 88] Although Jew’s mallow may not readily available in supermarkets where you live, you can easily find it in specialty stores these days. If you can’t find it fresh, the frozen variety (often already pre-chopped!) is perfectly fine as well.

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